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As Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich were preparing their offenses for playoff runs that would land their respective teams, the Chiefs and Buccaneers, in Super Bowl 2021, seven NFL teams were in search of new head coaches.
Not only did neither offensive coordinator get one of those jobs, but only one African-American candidate was hired.
Why should we be surprised, though?
When the Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003 to push NFL teams to take a closer look at minority hires, there were three black head coaches employed — the same number as there are today. That’s not only a staggering lack of progress, that’s downright damning.
Over the past four NFL hiring cycles, there have been 27 openings for head coaches and three of them were filled by black candidates — an inexcusable percentage when you consider the plethora of qualified candidates and that some 70 percent of the league’s players are black.
The 51-year-old Bieniemy, who’s coaching in his second consecutive Super Bowl as co-architect of the league’s most prolific offense, interviewed with six of the seven teams that had openings in this latest cycle.
In total, he’s believed to have interviewed with at least 13 different teams for a head-coaching position in the past three years, and that doesn’t include teams like the Jets, who interviewed him during two different job cycles.
“I did not ask to be the poster boy for this particular situation,’’ Bieniemy said.
And for whatever reason, that hasn’t happened.’’ Eric Bieniemy and Byron LeftwichGetty Images (2)
Nor has it happened for Leftwich, 41, who’s in his second season as the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator. Unlike Bieniemy, Leftwich didn’t even score one interview for those seven most recent vacancies.
Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, a college teammate of Leftwich’s at Marshall and still a confidant now, finds the fact that he never even got an interview understandably galling.
“He has the skill-set to be a head coach,’’ Pennington told The Post this week. “He has great people skills, he can talk and communicate with anybody from any background, which is very important. He also has great management skills in talking with players and coaches and delegating responsibilities and holding them to a standard.
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“He has the unique ability to create a belief system, so the players believe in themselves and what they’re doing. He brings that aura to it. I think he’s developing into a great head coaching candidate. It’s just a matter of time, and once he gets the opportunity, I think he’s going to knock it out of the park.’’
Pennington said Leftwich has expressed his disappointment with the league’s broken system of hiring black head coaches.
“In talking with Byron, I know how frustrating it is,’’ Pennington said. “I’m hoping we can move that needle forward, because a great coach is a great coach. Period. End of story.’’
Maybe Dan Campbell, a former player and assistant coach for years before finally getting his chance in Detroit, will overshadow his bizarre introductory news conference, which resembled more of a WWE pay-per-view promo, and turn the Lions into winners.
Maybe new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, who looked and sounded like a nervous schoolboy speaking in public for the first time in his utterly awkward introductory news conference, will turn out to be a proper leader of men.
But what makes those two men better candidates than Bieniemy, Leftwich, Bucs defensive coordinator and former Jets head coach Todd Bowles or any of the many other African-American candidates who are at least as qualified, if not more?
This is what makes the system and the process so maddening.
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Anyone who ever has rationalized a big purchase should understand…“Because when they’re hiring, sometimes this isn’t as much a racial issue as much as a cultural bias issue or an environment issue. If you haven’t placed enough emphasis in your personal life to have diverse relationships, you’re not going to hire diversity.
“That’s not a racial issue as much as a comfortability and bias issue as far as your environment.’’
The NFL has considered proposals on how to level the playing field, ideas such as prohibiting teams from making head-coaching hires until after the Super Bowl. The problem is teams will circumvent that by making back-door deals long before the Super Bowl if they’ve targeted their coach.
Bieniemy’s football résumé, which includes coaching in the past three AFC Championship games and his second Super Bowl on Sunday, is beyond reproach.
“If he wins this Sunday, there’s nothing more he can do,’’ ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said.
Those who’ve analyzed why Bieniemy hasn’t landed a head coaching job have wondered whether it’s because head coach Andy Reid is the primary play caller. But former Reid offensive coordinators Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy didn’t call plays, either.
“Both Eric and Andy Reid have done an awesome job of adapting to his skill set and creating a system to make him as successful as possible. They’re not getting enough credit for that.’’
There, too, has been speculation — though nothing on the record — that perhaps Bieniemy hasn’t interviewed well, whatever that means.
“I don’t understand everything,” Reid said. “I don’t sit in those meetings to interview head coaches. But I would just tell you that whoever gets him, whenever they get him, will be very, very lucky.”